The two companies said Facebook and Twitter removed two anti-Ukrainian “covert influence” operations over the weekend, one linked to Russia and the other with links to Belarus.
One operation, an advertising campaign showing a website paying anti-Ukrainian points, was an offshoot of a well-known Russian disinformation operation. A Facebook spokesperson said it used computer-generated faces to boost the credibility of fake columnists across several platforms, including Instagram.
The other campaign used hacked accounts to push similar anti-Ukrainian propaganda and was linked to a well-known Belarusian hacking group.
Misinformation experts warned It is expected that Russia will continue to attempt to manipulate the narratives about Ukraine – most notably regarding the claims of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Networks removed by Facebook and Twitter prompted accounts of it Putin himself mentioned in his speech announcing a military operationwhich has since turned into a full-scale invasion.
The announcement also makes clear that Russia continues to use disinformation strategies first identified in years around the 2016 election, albeit with some developments – most notably the use of software that It can create realistic and original human faces.
The largest of the two disinformation groups operating in Russia, as well as the Russian-dominated Donbass and Crimea regions of Ukraine, said Nathaniel Gleicher, head of security policy at META, is linked to the News Front and South Front sites, which are US government It has been classified as part of a broader disinformation effort with links to Russian intelligence. (Meta is the parent company of Facebook.)
In an interview, Gleicher said the propaganda campaign was able to “spread stories online that Ukraine is not doing well” by “pretending to be Kyiv-based journalists”.
“The good news is that neither of these campaigns has been that effective, but we see these actors trying to target Ukraine at this point,” he said.
“These actors are trying to undermine confidence in the Ukrainian government, suggesting that it is a failed state, suggesting that the war is going very badly in Ukraine or trying to praise Russia.”
Facebook has removed profiles related to Front and Southern Front news In 2020, the company confirmed to NBC News that the new group was sharing connections with previously banned accounts. Both sites have pushed for misleading articles, questioning the results of the 2020 presidential election and the efficacy of Covid-19 vaccines. Ministry of Foreign Affairs The sites have been identified as Russian disinformation outlets In the 2020 report.
The websites included articles urging Russian talking points such as “Zelensky builds a neo-Nazi dictatorship in Ukraine” and “Why Ukraine will get worse”. As of Sunday night, the sites were still showing the biographies and computer-generated faces of columnists and linking them to their accounts on VKontakte, Russia’s Facebook competitor.
Facebook said it has removed 40 profiles linked to the disinformation operation, saying the profiles are a small part of a larger character-building process that has spread across Twitter, Instagram, Telegram and Russian social networks.
Accounts linked to the sites were still active on Telegram, Russian social networks and YouTube on Sunday evening. YouTube declined to comment.
Twitter said it had banned more than a dozen accounts linked to Operation News Front and South Front Russian, which were clicking on links to a new propaganda website called Ukraine Today.
On February 27, we permanently suspended more than a dozen accounts and blocked many links from sharing in violation of Platform manipulation and spam policy. Our investigation is ongoing. However, our preliminary findings indicate that the accounts and links originated in Russia and were attempting to disrupt public conversation about the ongoing conflict in Ukraine,” a Twitter spokesperson said in a statement.
Facebook says it has halted a separate, multi-pronged disinformation operation by a well-known Belarus-based hacking group that targeted Ukrainians. The company said it hacked social media accounts to be used to spread pro-Russian propaganda.
Hackers have targeted journalists, military and local government officials in Ukraine, using hacked email accounts and passwords to log into their Facebook profiles. The hacked accounts will then post a video of what they say is a Ukrainian waving the white flag of surrender.
Facebook attributed the effort to hacking group Ghostwriter, which previously used hacked accounts to push disinformation on behalf of the Belarus government. Hacking group Ghostwriter works for the Government of Belarus, According to cybersecurity firm Mandiant.
As for who will be targeted next, Rene Dersta, director of research at the Stanford Internet Observatory, said it was “unlikely” that the users were from the United States.
“What you’ll see is likely to be the result of the current real influencers that are part of the sphere of influence that Russia has already established or from the characteristics of the media,” she said. “It takes a while to create a network of fake accounts.”
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